Using mindfulness to benefit your mental well-being doesn’t have to be hard if you practice, avoid pressuring yourself, and find a style that works for you.
Between hectic work schedules, gloomy newsreels, daily chores, and making time for friends and family, there’s plenty of stress to go around. Anyone can benefit from simple strategies to cope with some of the pressure.
Not sure if mindfulness is worth your time? Or do you feel overwhelmed by the options out there? Beginner’s mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated.
Mindfulness has so many benefits — from helping relieve stress to improving overall happiness and life satisfaction. And there are plenty of ways to add this kind of practice into your life so you can have a little fun experimenting.
The concept is simple. “Mindfulness is awareness, which comes from paying attention to what’s going on in and around us,” explains Ed Halliwell, a mindfulness teacher based in Sussex, UK, who leads classes in-person and online.
“It means tuning into the experience of our bodies and minds with a warm-hearted curiosity, and learning and acting on what we discover — with the intention to live life as fully, wisely, and compassionately as possible,” he says.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, renowned professor and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic, there are nine principal attitudes or ‘pillars’ to mindfulness:
- being nonjudgmental
- letting go
- not striving for a goal
- having a beginner’s mind
Plenty of people swear by mindfulness for enhancing and maintaining their well-being. And the evidence to support its practice isn’t just anecdotal.
Experts believe mindfulness encourages changes on a deeper level. For example, regularly engaging in mindfulness has been shown to positively change the brain’s structure.
Additionally, a 2016 study suggests meditation can enhance the connections between neural pathways in the brain.
Mindfulness comes in many shapes and forms. If you’re new to mindfulness, the many avenues available may give you decision fatigue.
One of the most commonly used approaches is mindful meditation.
The easiest way to engage in this technique is to sit in a quiet space with your eyes closed as you breathe slowly and deeply, letting thoughts come and go.
Some people can find it challenging to switch off, though. If that sounds like you, you may benefit from participating in guided programs.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), for example, is (typically) an 8-week course that involves daily at-home meditation sessions, once weekly classes with a teacher, homework assignments, and even a full-day silent retreat.
But while mindfulness and meditation may seem like a package deal, you don’t have to meditate to be mindful.
Do you prefer to keep active? Mindful yoga, which involves focusing attention on your breath, movements, and being in the moment, might be for you.
Another potential option for practicing mindfulness is journaling. You can try writing down your emotions, considering why and how they impact you.
Need some inspiration? Many available mindfulness apps offer a variety of sessions designed for different scenarios. Headspace and Calm, for example, offer everything from meditation-based breathing or movement classes to bedtime stories and courses for anxiety.
If you’re brand new to mindfulness, the idea of focusing your attention solely on yourself or successfully embracing the pillars noted by Kabat-Zinn, can seem somewhat intimidating.
Some approaches can help make mindfulness a little easier for beginners.
Practice, practice, practice. Just as you’d take time to learn an instrument or language, mastering mindfulness is no different, explains Halliwell.
“We can learn the art of living well by practicing over and over, with an attitude of gentleness,” he notes.
Setting aside some time each day will help you make mindfulness a habit. You might dedicate the first 30 minutes of your morning or 10 minutes before bed.
Sometimes, when things are hectic, you might only be able to commit to a few minutes of mindfulness. And that’s OK.
Avoid pressuring yourself
Don’t set expectations or a timeline in which to see results. Everyone’s mindfulness journey is different, and putting pressure on yourself could affect your progress.
Find a mentor
Consider working with a teacher to learn the basics and stay accountable.
“Taking lessons … is usually more effective in the long-term than teaching yourself,” Halliwell says. Feeling a bit self-conscious about one-to-one sessions? You could look for groups to join instead or consider checking out meditation apps.
Find your style
Finally, you can take the time to find the best fit for you. What works for some may not be as effective for others. You shouldn’t force yourself to eat foods you don’t like, so don’t feel you have to stick with a particular approach if you’re not a fan.
Ready to get started? Here are a few simple approaches you can try to set those mindful wheels in motion.
We use our breath every few seconds yet often don’t give it a second thought. So why not bring it to the forefront now?
The 4-7-8 approach is designed to rein in your focus and bring you to a place of relaxation. Here are some steps to follow:
- Find a quiet spot, get comfortable, and exhale out of your mouth.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale loudly out of your mouth for 8 seconds. It’s fine to work up to this number if you find a long exhalation difficult at first.
Scan for sensations
Using body scanning is a good way to quiet noise from the outside world and recognize how you’re feeling.
- Lie down in a comfy, quiet space. Close your eyes and let your muscles relax.
- Then, starting from the top of your head, slowly move down your body, paying attention to any sensations. Focus on these for up to a minute, then let your thoughts drift away as you move to the next area of your body until you reach the tips of your toes.
Heading outside? Make your walk mindful by really paying attention to your surroundings. What sounds do you hear? What scents can you smell? How does moving make you feel?
Increasing your awareness of elements such as these can help slow things down and instill a sense of calm.
You can engage in mindfulness in various ways, from meditation and breathing to journaling and yoga. You might find some approaches easier or more enjoyable than others, so try to be patient when attempting to create an enjoyable mindfulness practice.
Learning to practice mindfulness is like learning a new skill: The more you do it, the easier it will become. And then? The more benefits you’ll reap.